Bo Rogers has been in the heating and cooling industry for 21 years, starting in 2001 as a residential HVAC installer for Peachtree Service Experts in Atlanta, GA. Bo caught on quickly and after being promoted as a residential service technician he found his true calling as a residential comfort advisor, earning hundreds of satisfied customers and winning several Lennox & Amana Sales Awards. In 2016 Bo and his family moved to the Ashland area to be closer to family and he has spent the last 4 years as the area’s leading Comfort Advisor with Comfort Control. Bo’s personal mantra is to treat every customer like he would expect his family to be treated and he only recommends products and services a customer actually needs.
Many homes in the Midwest are accustomed to central heating and cooling, which keeps your home comfortable through a system of ductwork throughout your house. But suppose you have that one room, that one space that’s always hot in the summer and always cold in the winter, no matter how great your central heating and cooling system is. Or suppose you are one of those Midwestern homeowners with a ductless boiler heating system—how are you planning on keeping cool this summer?
That’s where ductless mini-splits come in.
I’ve been working with mini-splits for years and have seen hundreds of their installations. Folks in our region are just beginning to experience the benefits of this type of system, and by the end of this article, I’m confident you’ll know whether the ductless mini-split is the right option for your home.
What Is a Ductless Mini-Split?
Mini-splits are a flexible solution for many homes. They are hyper-efficient heating and cooling units that can control the temperature in hard-to-reach areas. A ductless mini-split system does not need air ducts to operate. While a traditional air conditioner will distribute air throughout the home from a single unit, a mini-split indoor unit serves a single room or area. Each unit uses a separate fan and evaporator coil.
The term "split" refers to the fact that there is still an outdoor and indoor unit as part of the system. This is in contrast with a "packaged" system, which has the heating and cooling equipment in a single outdoor unit. "Mini" refers to the fact that the individual units, or "heads" are smaller than traditional A/C or furnace equipment.
Where Can I Use a Mini-Split?
You can find mini-splits in all kinds of settings. Here are a few common areas we’ve installed ductless mini-splits:
- Garages: It’s illegal to put ductwork in garages due to potential safety issues. I use my garage as a workstation for home projects year-round. It would be miserable if it were freezing or too hot when I work. A ductless system allows me to control the temperature in the garage throughout the year.
- Master Bedrooms: Often, master bedrooms are the farthest away from a central heating and cooling system. This is a space you want to be comfortable in! If your master suite isn’t being properly heated or cooled, sometimes a ductless solution is preferable to modifying the home’s ductwork or replacing the existing system.
- Finished Basements: Did you just turn your basement into the perfect party room? It’s probably too cold most of the time, and too hot when you get a bunch of people down there even in the winter months.
- Attics/Guest Rooms: Similar to the basement, if you have a usable room on the upper level of your home, but it lacks air ducts traveling to it, you’ll often see mini-splits fill the void.
- Slab Homes: Without a basement to house a larger air conditioner and/or furnace, these homes often lack good heating and cooling options.
- Three-Season Rooms: In Ohio, your three-season room might only be comfortable to use six months out of the year, but adding a mini-split can bring extra functionality to that space all year round.
- Homes with Boiler Systems: Houses that have boiler heat are ductless themselves, and it’s almost always more cost-effective to consider ductless mini-splits to provide air conditioning comfort in lieu of replacing your whole house heating system.
- Homes without Natural Gas/Propane Access: It can be costly, complicated, or unrealistic to try to tie in to other heat options. For homes without easy access to these primary sources of fuel, mini-splits are the perfect, cost-effective solution.
Ductless mini-splits provide other benefits, including removing humidity and filtering your air. The smaller size of the ductless system does not mean it needs any less maintenance; they need regular maintenance and service just like a full HVAC system.
How Does a Mini-Split Work?
Ductless mini-splits can always cool your air. Some models can also heat your home. The heating/cooling combo systems function just like a heat pump, powered by electricity. This makes the equipment very efficient.
Because it functions like a heat pump, rather than generating heat to distribute through your home, it’s gathering heat from the outside to move into the home. This seems counterintuitive during the winter months. How can the system find heat outside when it’s freezing? Despite how it feels to us, there is still heat in the air to absorb, and the technology can produce results even in these colder temperatures.
The other major factor in a mini-split system is how many indoor units, or heads, it has. A single outdoor unit can travel to up to eight indoor heads, though residential systems generally feature fewer than this. This is one of the advantages of a ductless system. By having multiple heads, each functioning separately, you can use only what you need to keep you or your family comfortable, and no more.
Say you are in a dorm area with two bedrooms. This is a common type of building to see ductless systems in. One person wants it to be 74 degrees. Another wants it to be 68 degrees. Who wins?
They both do. Each can control the temperature in their room accordingly. This is also one of the main advantages mini-split systems have over central heating and cooling. Those larger systems can often serve a whole home better but don’t have the same level of granular control.
What Types of Mini-Splits Are There?
There are a variety of ductless options available for your home. The best system for you depends on the size of the area you want to control, the location of the rooms, and whether your home has a ducted system already.
While it's possible to buy a mini-split off the Internet, every home and every comfort level is different. Mini-splits come in all shapes and sizes. You can get 1-to-1 units (1 indoor unit for 1 outdoor unit), multi-head systems, which allow multiple indoor units to be connected to a single outdoor unit, lots of different indoor unit styles (traditional wall hung, ceiling cassettes, floor console units and more). There are also cooling only units and several different tiers of system depending on whether it is going to be used as the primary source of heating or if there is a backup source of heat (i.e. wood or electric baseboard).
Residentially, ductless systems go up to 4-5 tons, which is a measurement of how powerful an outdoor unit is. A single-head mini-split that’s intended for a single room or area might only need a 0.5-ton outdoor unit, but a five-head split would require something in the upper tonnage range. To get the most bang for your buck, reach out to a professional installer to assess your space and find the best option for you.
What Are the Benefits of a Mini-Split System?
Now we’re getting to the good stuff. Efficiency is where ductless systems can shine.
Think about the gas mileage on your car. The better the gas mileage, the cheaper it is to drive it consistently. Over the life of your vehicle, this is going to save you thousands of dollars if you have an efficient car.
The same is true of HVAC systems. Many people have heard of SEER Rating, which stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Rating. It’s a calculation of how much energy it takes to cool your home to a certain degree. For heating, the acronym is HSPF, or Heating Seasonal Performance Factor.
Whole-home air conditioners can typically get up to about 22-23 SEER. The cooling in a ductless mini-split can be over 30 SEER! The same is true for HSPF, where ductless systems are among the most efficient machines on the market.
The primary reason for this is that mini-splits use inverter technology and a variable-speed compressor. The equipment takes high-voltage electricity coming in and converts it into DC voltage. This means it can use less energy to do more work.
The compressor’s variable speed also means that the airflow is matched to the temperature. Much like a dimmer on a light, it has more than an "on/off" switch. It’s only using as much energy as it needs. By contrast, on most standard A/C units you have only one or two speeds, so the machine turns on and off more often.
Is the Mini-Split the Right Solution for My Home?
Great question! We love the technology and functionality of the mini-split for the variety of scenarios described above. If you’re thinking this might be the right solution for you, a professional and experienced member of our crew can come out to give you an honest assessment of what’s going to be the best, most efficient solution for your heating and cooling needs. Give us a call.